On November 1, the Allentown Branch of the Greater Valley YMCA opened its Warming Station for the third year.
Preparing for a potential influx due to the pandemic, David Fagerstrom, the President and CEO of the Greater Valley YMCA in Allentown, Pennsylvania, said currently they’re seeing about the same numbers as last year. Even more so, he noted around 85% of the individuals coming in are different than last year, helping to disprove the stigma of homelessness.
“If you’re not in the business of serving the homeless, you see them as the person going down the street with a shopping cart,” said Fagerstrom. “But most people that we serve are regular people who have cars and cell phones – they just need a little bit of help to get through some kind of personal problem.”
The Warming Station runs roughly six months out of the year from November to May. This year, the program was moved from the basement of the Y to one of the gyms to accommodate for the potential influx due to evictions and to meet COVID-19 safety measures. One of the safety measures include only using the bottom bunk of bunk beds and spacing them six feet apart.
Additionally, staffing is a large part of running the Warming Station. Fagerstrom shared his Y hires and trains about eight seasonal staff members to accommodate having staff at the station at all times.
“Working with the homeless population can be a tough crowd, so it’s not really for the faint of heart,” he said. “You really have to have the right person and they have to have the right training. We said if we were going to do this, we weren’t going to rely on volunteers.”
Overall, the expense of running the Warming Station is between $150,000 to $200,000 a year and Fagerstrom shared the Y is fortunate to have a coalition of funders who help make the program possible for their community.
“We have support from Lehigh County, the City of Allentown, the First Presbyterian Church of Allentown, an anonymous donor, local businesses and numerous funders along with the Y’s contribution,” he said.
If your organization is interested in starting a similar program for your community, Fagerstrom advised not trying to recreate the wheel. “We talked to several of the organizations that had done it in the past,” he said. “You don’t have to necessarily go through a rough patch that first year or two. There’s enough knowledge out there and there’s plenty of people who are very passionate about serving the homeless. If anyone is interested, certainly reach out to me.”